You probably won’t see John Witt’s name in any record books or his face on “Sportscenter”, but, his recent milestone is every bit as impressive as those that make news on the “worldwide leader”.
On May 8 at Dodgers Stadium, the famed ballhawk retrieved his 3000th Major League ball…a pretty cool milestone when you consider most of us would settle for just one!
HOVG: Let’s start from the beginning. When did you first start ballhawking? What made you get into it? Do you remember your first ball?
WITT: As far as getting into ballhawking, it was something to do while my dad took photos on the field. Of course, it might have had something to do with seeing my dad grab a Hank Aaron batting practice homer on the fly when I was seven at Milwaukee County Stadium. I caught my first ball in 1977. In fact, I caught two that night. The first was a ball hit down the line during batting practice. I was in horrible position in the second row. As the people in the first row leaned over, a security guard stuck out his foot. The ball hit his foot, flew over those in the front row and right to me. Then, during the game, after between inning warm ups, Chet Lemon threw his ball back to the ball boy, it got past him and I leaned over the wall and picked it up off the tarp that it had landed on.
HOVG: What is your favorite ball that you have snagged?
WITT: Favorite ball? Hmmm…I would have to go with getting the last rooftop home run at Old Comiskey Park hit by family friend Ron Kittle. On April 17, 1990, the wind was howling in for a game against the Red Sox. I had actually decided to get out of the cold and go home to watch the A’s play the Angels on ESPN since I had “ballhawk” friends there. As I got in my car, I turned on the radio and listened to the game as I left. As I went down Shields St., which is along the third base side of the park, I heard the announcers call a home run by Kittle. Then I heard, “I can’t believe he just hit that ball onto the roof”. As soon as I heard that, I immediately knew where the ball would likely be. I was just about to the street behind left field. As I almost made the lefthand turn onto the street, I saw a cop sitting there and chose to drive completely around Armour Square Park. As I made my way behind the leftfield wall of the park, I pulled into a spot against the fence looking into Armour Square Park. My headlights were shining right on the ball. I got out and as I hopped the fence. Another guy was running right at me. Thankfully I got to the ball first! I immediately went back and parked my car and went into the stadium to show off the ball to some friends. Shortly after that, I took the ball down to the front offices. Knowing this could be the last “roofer”, I told them I wanted to give it back to Ron. After the game, they took me and the ball to the door of the White Sox clubhouse. The door opened and Ron was standing right there, he looked out and said, “You caught it? You ain’t getting nothing” and the door closed. A couple seconds later, the door opened again and with that silly crooked smile that Kittle is known for, he said that he was just kidding and handed me one of his bats. He also signed the bat for me!
Later in the season, Gary Gaetti of the Twins just missed a rooftop home run by less than a foot. Thankfully it hit the facade and fell to the field!
HOVG: In reading your blog, I see you expressed a little disappointment that you snagged your 3000th Major League ball by picking it up off the ground. I know running after that ball was mostly instinctual, but did you ever think about just letting it go and waiting for one to catch on the fly?
WITT: I did think about that, a lot, but after the crappy day of ballhawking I had a few days earlier, and the fact that I was the only one to see it go out, I just had to grab it. Plus it got number 3000 out of the way and took the pressure off me.
HOVG: Since you were outside the stadium when you snagged number 3000, you don’t really know who hit it. Does that bother you with such an illustrious personal milestone?
WITT: Fortunately, I did find out that Adrian Gonzalez hit the ball. Season ticket holders get into the park at four o’clock and some of them knew that I was outside of the park. They emailed me to tell me that it was in fact Gonzalez that hit the bomb to center that jumped the fence.
HOVG: Now, with the ball in your possession, do you regret not waiting for one on the fly?
WITT: I have learned never to regret anything. Number 3000 was something I had waited 36 years for, I definitely no regrets here on how I got the ball. Although it might have been nice to catch it on the fly, the most important thing was to simply get to 3000 and I did!
HOVG: You’re 43, but are showing no signs of slowing down. When is the “MLBallhawk” going to hang up the mitt?
WITT: Jokingly, I told some people that I could “retire” after getting number 3000. Then after grabbing five more baseballs, I realized that you just can’t “hang it up”. Hell, Wrigley Field ballhawks Moe Mullins and Rich Burhke are in their 60s and show no signs of slowing down. So at 43, it’s way to early to hang up the glove!
John Witt is a professional ballhawk who, over the past 35 summer, has caught more than 3000 baseballs during regular season Major League Baseball games. Among his game home run balls…Sammy Sosa’s 61st home run (1998), Bob Boone’s 100th career homer, Carlton Fisk’s 350th, Dave Winfield’s 450th, Dante Bichette’s first, 1989 NLCS home run by Kevin Mitchell, 2003 ALCS home run by Derek Jeter and the last roof top HR hit by Ron Kittle.
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